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Set up a rectangular area suitable in size for your players’ age and developmental stage. We have eight players in ours, but you can adapt to your numbers by changing the size or creating multiple areas.
Using flat markers, mark out a halfway line and create an end zone at either end. These are the ‘islands’. The middle area is the ‘sea’. You’ll also need a goal at each end, but you won’t use these until part three of the session.
To start, assign three defenders, two in one half and one in the other. These are the ‘sea guards’, and they’re locked into their assigned half. The other five players are the attackers, and they start the game on one of the islands. Each attacker has a bib and can choose whether to tuck it into the front, side or back of their shorts. This is their ‘tail’.
The attackers must try to make it from one island to the other without getting their tail stolen by a sea guard. If successful, they get one point. If a guard takes their tail, the two swap roles. After getting to one island, the attackers try to make it back to the other, and so on.
Challenge the attackers to get across on one leg for 10 points – this will help develop fundamental movement skills.
Play for around two minutes – then ask the attackers how many points they’ve got. Make sure you swap the attackers and sea guards regularly.
The game remains the same, but the attackers swap their tail for a ball. They then choose whether to run through the sea with the ball in their hands or at their feet. Giving players this choice supports their motivations and gives them some ownership over the session.
Attackers get one point if they make it across with the ball in their hands. They get 10 points if they get across with the ball at their feet (which is more difficult).
If a sea guard safely tags a ball in an attacker's hands or steals it from their feet, the two swap roles.
This is where the goals come into play. Split your players into two teams (we do 4v4) and ask one player from each team to be the goalkeeper (or play without goalkeepers). Keepers aren’t restricted to any specific part of the pitch, so encourage them to come out and use their feet as much as possible.
This is a normal match, but teams can only score from within the opposition’s end zone. This encourages players to be brave and take people on.
You may want to apply this scoring system: a goal is worth the number of players in the opposition’s half when it’s scored. For example, if the yellow team score while having three players in the blue team’s half, they get three points. In football, lots of goals are scored by players combining close to the goal. So, this rule encourages players to push up and support the attack.
It’s important to give the teams opportunities to get together and have a team talk. Ask them to discuss how the game’s going and what they can improve on.
If your players master your activity – or find it too hard – try adding a progression.
In part one, you could:
- add more guards
- remove the halfway line so the guards aren’t locked into a half
- add safety spots where players can’t get tagged – call these the 'stepping stones’.
In part two, you could:
- add more guards
- award extra points if an attacker does a skill on their way across the sea
- make the guards dribble to the halfway line when they win the ball to swap roles.
In part three, you could:
Whatever you do, remember that learning takes time. So don't alter your activity too quickly – or too much. Try using the STEP framework (Youth Sports Trust, 2002). This helps keep things fun, engaging and appropriate.
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